Search Results for "dualism"

Aug 09 2011

Still More Misdirection and Illogic from Egnor

Michael Egnor has responded to my prior post in which I outlined his numerous failings in logic and misrepresentations of neuroscience. His response continues to be incoherent, but does offer some further teaching points.

One of the main points of contention is this – what can we infer from the relationship between damage to the brain and resulting neurological signs and symptoms. My position is that, if the mind is entirely caused by the functioning of the brain, then damage to the brain will damage the mind. I maintain that this is true, as far as we can tell from our current technology and understanding of neuroscience.

Egnor maintains that this is not true – that the relationship is “not the least bit predictable.” Further, that this lack of total correlation is evidence for dualism, that the mind is produced, at least in part, by something immaterial. There are both factual and logical problems with his position. To my criticism of his claims, he writes:

Mental deficits – specific defects in reasoning, judgement, planning, memory– are highly variable. One cannot look at a CT scan done after a head injury and predict with any certainty that ‘this person will have an inability to remember numbers’. High level mental function localizes very poorly to specific brain regions. This is odd, if, as Novella claims, the material brain is entirely the cause of all mental function.

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186 responses so far

Aug 05 2011

The Motivated Reasoning of Egnorance

Published by under Neuroscience

If you want to see many examples of motivated reasoning, pay a visit to Michael Egnor’s blog, Egnorance. He’s the evolution-denying neurosurgeon that I have sparred with over the last few years, mostly about evolution and dualism. Motivated reasoning is what most people do most of the time – start with a desired conclusion and then find reasons to support it (humans are very good at that). However, the whole point of philosophy is to rise above this tendency and follow strict rules of logic, while the point of science is similar but also to follow the evidence. Egnor can’t seem to do either, as he rants against non-believers, misinterprets study after study, and attacks those who do not share his particular faith.

A few weeks ago he wrote a response to a blog post of mine about materialism. This is familiar ground, but he does nicely reveal his tactics in the article so I thought I should eventually respond. He starts by misrepresenting the very topic of the discussion:

He put together six assertions that he claims are proven scientifically and thus prove his theory that the mind is caused entirely by the brain.

The materialist theory of mind is not my theory – it is the overwhelming consensus of neuroscientists and the result of over a century of research. But Egnor would have his readers believe it is my own quirky “bizarre” theory. This is, of course, nonsense. It is Egnor who is out on the fringe of neuroscience with his antiquated dualist beliefs. But far more important are the actual arguments themselves (I make this point mainly to demonstrate how Egnor constantly rewrites reality).

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175 responses so far

Feb 25 2009

Egnor Sinks to New Lows

Published by under Evolution

This is low, even for Dr. Michael Egnor, who has been an active apologist for the nonsensical anti-evolution propaganda over at the Discovery Institute. Egnor cannot seem to resist when he thinks he has caught someone in an error, and so he throws whatever faint whisper of logic or scholarship he has overboard (hardly noticeable, really) and sinks to new lows of intellectual buffoonery.

In this case he is responding to my discussion of the evolutionary tree of life – the fact that the fossil record and genetic evidence support the conclusion that all life is related through a pattern of branching descent. He refers to my summary of the current consensus of scientific opinion as an “astonishing gaffe.”

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105 responses so far

Jan 15 2009

I’ll be on NPR

Published by under Uncategorized

Quick note for those who are interested, I will be interviewed on NPR Friday morning 9:30-10:30 Eastern time. The topic will be about dualism and the evolution of human consciousness. They tell me that Michael Egnor may also be on – should be interesting.


The interview went well, it was a 1 on 1 for about an hour. It was being recorded for future broadcast. I was told it will come out around Darwin’s birthday (Feb 12th) either on Morning Edition or All Things Considered.

As soon as they let me know exactly when I will post another update.

Urgent Update:

This is actually unrelated, but I was asked to be on JPR, a local Oregon NPR affiliate, right now!!!.

That is – 12:00-1:00pm Eastern Today.

You can stream live from here: (go to The Jefferson Exchange under News). Here is the link to the show description:

Download the podcast here (  – my interview is the second hour.


109 responses so far

Jan 15 2009

Sorry, Egnor, Your Pillars Are Still Shattered

Published by under Uncategorized

Michael Egnor, the creationist neurosurgeon who blogs over at the Discovery Institute, has been a busy beaver lately. He has written several entries on his side of the materialism vs dualism debate we’ve been having. I have been reading them, waiting for him to say something new I need to respond to, but mostly he is just reiterating the same points I have already refuted. Putting an old argument in a new form, or citing a new source, does not change the argument nor is it a response to refutation.

But now he has specifically responded to my previous post on the topic (although still not really addressing my points), and so a response from me is in order.

In a post titled, “It’s Time for Me to Unshatter My “Three Pillars of Neuroscience Denial,” Egnor tried and failed to refute my summary of his core logical fallacies.

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75 responses so far

Dec 12 2008

More Neuroscience Denial

Published by under Uncategorized

Dr. Michael Egnor has written two more posts reiterating his neuroscience denial over at the Discovery institute. This reinforces the impression that neuroscience denial is the “new creationism” – the new battleground against materialism as a basis for modern science. It is important to keep an eye on the arguments and tactics being developed by the DI to deny the core claim of neuroscience, that the mind is what the brain does. This is likely to be an increasing area of attention for the DI and others with an anti-scientific agenda.

Intellectual Dishonesty

Creationists are intellectually dishonest because they are not engaged in a genuine search for understanding, but rather have staked out an ideological position that they will defend at all costs. This applies as well to Dr. Egnor, who is ideologically dedicated to denying the obvious conclusion from the last century of neuroscience – that the brain causes mind.

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72 responses so far

Oct 28 2008

More on Methodological Naturalism

Published by under Uncategorized

My posts from last Thursday and Friday on materialism sparked an unusual amount of activity in the comments, which is always great. There is much great discussion and links to further reading. But I feel I did not make my position clear enough, and a longer clarification than is appropriate for the comments is needed.

Much of the confusion and disagreement seems to revolve around definitions – it is difficult to find common ground when people are using different specific definitions for the same words. This is a common problem in philosophy, which seems to multiple terms with subtle distinctions, and has been further magnified by the fact that I was partly confronting how other people (like ID proponents) are using terms, vs how philosophers define them, vs how the public perceives them. Confusion ensued.

Although this is probably obvious, I want to say for the record that I am not a philosopher. I am a scientist trying to understand philosophy as it pertains to science and skepticism. This probably causes as many problems as philosophers who are not scientists trying to understand the philosophy of science.

So as I crawl back through this discussion of methodological naturalism and materialism I will try to be careful about defining terms and in which context.

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69 responses so far

Oct 24 2008

Reports of the Demise of Materialism Are Premature – Part II

Published by under Uncategorized

Yesterday I wrote about the Wedge strategy of the intelligent design (ID) movement – namely to undermine and replace the materialist basis of modern science with something that conforms to their ideological spiritual beliefs. This anti-materialist agenda has been primarily targeted against evolution, but now seems to be shifting its attention to neuroscience.

An Unholy Alliance

The Wedge strategy of the Discovery Institute (DI) and other ID proponents is largely a Christian movement. It is interesting that they have found common ground with others who have a very different ideology but share in common a distaste for strict materialism because it is inconvenient to their spiritual agenda.

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167 responses so far

Oct 23 2008

Reports of the Demise of Materialism Are Premature

Published by under Uncategorized

The New Scientist has recently discovered what readers of this blog have known for a while – that the denial of materialist neuroscience is the “new creationism.”  In fact I have written extensively over the past year about the embrace by the Discovery Institute (an intelligent design group) of cartesian dualism, the notion that the mind is a different substance from the brain. The primary proponent of this argument for the DI (and a frequent foil of my blog entries) is Michael Egnor, a creationist neurosurgeon. But the New Scientist article correctly points out that this is actually part of a larger movement and a larger strategy.

The Wedge Strategy

This current attack on neuroscience has the same underlying roots as the ID attack on evolution – the real enemy for ID proponents is materialism. The infamous Wedge document makes this clear in its opening paragraphs:

The proposition that human beings are created in the image of God is one of the bedrock principles on which Western civilization was built. Its influence can be detected in most, if not all, of the West’s greatest achievements, including representative democracy, human rights, free enterprise, and progress in the arts and sciences.

Yet a little over a century ago, this cardinal idea came under wholesale attack by intellectuals drawing on the discoveries of modern science. Debunking the traditional conceptions of both God and man, thinkers such as Charles Darwin, Karl Marx, and Sigmund Freud portrayed humans not as moral and spiritual beings, but as animals or machines who inhabited a universe ruled by purely impersonal forces and whose behavior and very thoughts were dictated by the unbending forces of biology, chemistry, and environment. This materialistic conception of reality eventually infected virtually every area of our culture, from politics and economics to literature and art.

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21 responses so far

Oct 13 2008

Artificial Consciousness

Published by under Uncategorized

My blog from last week on the upcoming Turing test provoked a great deal of interesting conversation in the comments – which is great. Short blog entries are often insufficient to fully explore a deep topic. Often I am just scratching the surface, and so there is often much more meat in the comments than the original post.

Some points came up in the comments that I thought would be good fodder for a follow up post.

Siener wrote:

Think about it this way: You are saying that a system can exists that acts like it is conscious, but unless it has some magical additive, some élan vital with absolutely zero affect on its behaviour it cannot be truly conscious.

That is not what I am saying at all.  From my many previous posts on the topic it is clear that I am not a dualist of any sort. I essentially agree with Daniel Dennet’s approach to the question of dualism. When I wrote that behavior alone is insufficient to determine if computer AI is conscious I was not referring to some magical extra ingredient, but a purely materialistic aspect of the AI itself.

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46 responses so far

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